In an interview on AYV TV in Freetown, Dr. Memunatu Pratt, the newly appointed Minister of Tourism and culture, defended President Maada Bio’s slow pace in appointing women. Dr. Pratt argued that the president is “committed to gender equality and also committed to making sure that we immediately pass the 30% quota for women” (AYVTV.com).
How could the ordinary person who cannot read the president’s mind tell that he is committed to gender equality when out of 35 appointments, only 5 are women? It is only logical for majority marginalized women in Sierra Leone to expect the president to show his commitment to gender equality right from the start of his presidency.
In his campaign Manifesto, President Bio promised to, “Review and enact the minimum 30% Quota Bill, which creates the chance for women to hold 30% of positions in elective and appointive positions” (p. 47). This is a promise that gave women the confidence that should Mr. Bio win, not only would he enact this law that his predecessor failed to pass, but he would also set an example by appointing women, at the minimum, within the 30% threshold.
But the newly appointed female Minister, who has yet to commence her duties in office, argued that it is “too early for us to pass judgment” on the president based on his dismal regard to women in his appointments.
Dr. Pratt claimed that she was not just saying this because she has been appointed, but that given the number of appointees so far, “the 5 women he has appointed has met the threshold of 30%” (AYV TV)
Dr. Fatou Taqi, President of the 50/50 women’s organization, disputed Dr. Pratt’s claim and pointed out that the president appointing 5 women out of 35 appointments does not even come close to the 30% quota he promised.
It would have been less damaging to women’s cause in Sierra Leone if Dr. Pratt had stayed neutral; since she is a new appointee who does not know the president that well yet. But to go as far as making such a factual error, makes us wonder whether we could expect Dr. Pratt to support or advocate for women’s causes through her newly acquired power and voice in the current leadership.
We find Dr. Pratt’s warning for women to exercise patience as an attempt to silence women who would want to raise their voices and urge the president to keep to his promise. It is no secret that President Bio’s appointments so far have been mainly along political interest, for both male and female appointees.
When interviewed by AYV TV, the Press Secretary Mr. Keketoma argued that the president is not trying to appoint women just for “window dressing,” that he is looking for qualified women; suggesting that finding qualified women is challenging for the president.
Mr. Keketoma’s claim is also far from the truth. If truly the president is committed to gender balance in his appointments, finding qualified Sierra Leonean women to meet his 30% promise would not be any more challenging than finding qualified men.
We know for sure that the women appointed so far are well qualified and capable; however, we also know that they are politically connected. For instance, one of the 5 appointed women was the running mate for an opposition party; another is the wife of a Member of Parliament in President Bio’s party, etc.
In fact, all of President Bio’s appointments so far have been politically motivated, either as rewards for campaign support or as a trade for regional and other political gains. As we all know, there is that little nagging problem in Parliament, where the president’s party only has 33% of seats. We understand trading must take place.
But that is not our focus; we will continue to focus on the situation for women in President Bio’s appointments and other activities. We hope that the president would keep gender balance in mind as he continues his trading and rewarding appointments.